Pimples are unexpected visitors that are never welcomed and tend to appear at the worst possible times. The first instinct is to pick at them, pop them, then cry—pimples don’t go down without a fight. However, sometimes disrupting them only creates a new crop of bumps that sends you down the rabbit hole of remedies on how to (safely) get rid of pimples overnight with the least possible damage.
Word of advice: popping may give you some momentary hope, but can cause further damage in the long run. The sad truth is that you can’t exactly eliminate a pimple in an hour, and even getting rid of one overnight can be a challenge. However, there’s no need to resort to popping. It’s possible to rid acne of its worst traits if you employ a diligent skincare regimen. Remedies can range from face serums to pimple patches to injections.
“Pimples are small micro-infections of hair follicles,” explains Dr. Purvisha Patel, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare. “You may not be able to get ‘rid’ of a pimple overnight, but you can make it look a lot better, so it appears to be gone.”
More From ELLE
Dr. Angela J. Lamb, director of the Westside Mount Sinai Dermatology Faculty Practice in New York City, adds that there are “no guarantees” when it comes to a bedtime miracle, but there are several steps you can follow to get your skin glowing just in time.
Read on for derm-approved tips for minimizing breakouts.
Tip 1: Make sure you’re using the right ingredients.
Stop staring at your pimple for a second and do a little research on it. Dr. Patel explains that pimples are commonly caused by four things: follicular occlusion, microbe growth, sebum production (or adding oil to your skin), and inflammation.
All these issues can be addressed when a pimple is in its early stage. “The most common way to address these issues is to use benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, tree oil, or salicylic acid products before you go to bed,” says Dr. Patel.
Benzoyl peroxide is a bleaching agent that kills microbes and dries up oil in the follicle.
Similar to benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil and sulfur also work by drying up the pimple. “Using these products can make the pimple look smaller in the morning,” explains Dr. Patel.
Dr. Lamb also recommends using topical prescription products if you happen to have any in your medicine cabinet. Gels that contain clindamycin—an antibiotic—or topical minocycline can quickly reduce the appearance of an angry zit.
However, if you prefer to use products that don’t require a doctor’s note, you can head to the nearest drugstore to pick up a face wash or serum that contains salicylic acid first. “Salicylic acid products not only dry up the pimple and kill any microbes, but also exfoliate the skin on top to let any accumulated puss out of the follicle,” says Dr. Patel. (Gross, but effective.)
Tip 1: Wash with a quality cleanser.
Spot treatments and pimple patches get all the hype for acne emergencies, but don’t ignore the power of a good cleanser. You can find one imbued with the ingredients mentioned above—such as the Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser, which has two percent salicylic acid—or invest in another good exfoliating wash.
“Exfoliating cleansers are perfect for acne, as they help unclog the pores to not only treat pimples, but also prevent them from occurring,” says Dr. Patel. This classic exfoliating cleanser from Cerave purges impurities from your skin without leaving it feeling stripped bare. It’s made from ingredients like salicylic acid, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and ceramides to restore balance as it fights breakouts.
Tip 3: If you’re getting desperate, try hydrocortisone cream.
Yes, it’s for more than just mosquito bites!
Dr. Patel says over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can be a quick fix for redness, so long as you don’t use it for more than three nights in a row. Don’t layer it on too thick, either. If you’re not careful, the cream may block your pores.
It’s best to find a hydrocortisone cream that is hyaluronic acid-based, as hyaluronic acid is a water-binding molecule that doesn’t clog pores.
Tip 4: Stay away from edible ingredients.
Products formulated with coconut oil, olive oil, or almond oil sound luxurious and healthy. When it comes to acne treatment, these oils only reinforce the problem. Steer clear of edible ingredients if you’re amidst a pimple crisis.
“If we can eat the product, bacteria and fungus can eat the product,” Dr. Patel says, “and this could possibly make more pimples.”
Tip 5: Use a good spot treatment or pimple patch.
Dr. Lamb highly recommends putting a well-reviewed pimple patch on a problem area, as the treatment “usually cannot hurt.” Avoid overusing them, especially ones that contain acids or benzoyl peroxide, as they can create additional irritation.
When you’re in a bind, Dr. Patel prefers turning to spot treatments, which “work better for overnight fixes,” she says. “Blister bandages or hydrocolloid patches work by pulling the contents of a pimple out versus topicals that dry up the pimple.”
Tip 5: Invest in cortisone injections.
If you have access to a dermatologist the day before your major event, it’s true you can get a cortisone injection to treat your zit immediately. But make sure you’re thinking seriously about the level of necessity.
“They are truly for a pimple emergency,” says Dr. Patel. “Think a day before your wedding or prom-level of emergency.” While steroid injections decrease inflammation of the pimple immediately, the side effects of steroid injections range from skin thinning to lightning to possible indentation at the injection site. They are NOT recommended as a regular pimple treatment.
Tip 6: Try a DIY treatment.
It’s possible to stir up a great at-home acne treatment with a few ingredients in your kitchen. Try the following:
- A small crushed-up aspirin paste to a pimple helps with drying up the spot and inflammation.
- Toothpaste—the opaque kind, not gel—can be used to dry up pimples.
- Ice to a red pimple gives immediate blood vessel constriction and helps with redness.
- Conversely, you can use a warm compress to bring a pimple to a head faster, according to Dr. Lamb.
Tip 7: Believe it or not, popping can be an option. Just proceed with extreme caution.
If you’ve exhausted all your options, nothing has worked, and you’re hours away from walking down the aisle with a massive whitehead, it’s finally time to consider popping.
Dr. Lamb warns that squeezing a zit is normally a huge no-no. But if a pimple has a huge whitehead—and all its contents are visible at the top—you can use clean, gloved hands or cotton swabs to apply gentle pressure and pop. The problem, she explains, comes when you pop pimples that aren’t ready or squeeze with dirty fingers.
“Squeezing them with non-sterile fingernails can lead to spreading of the micro-infection, more inflammation, and scarring,” explains Dr. Patel. So, in most instances, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
This content is imported from poll. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.
Tip 8: Trust your concealer.
Makeup was made for times like these. It’s possible to make a zit look nonexistent, even if it hasn’t disappeared entirely, by purchasing a quality drugstore concealer that won’t break the bank. Dr. Lamb loves Make Up For Ever’s concealer, or you can try a green concealer, which counteracts the redness of acne and inflammation. Either way, you’ll end up looking stunning—pimple or not.
Meet the experts
Dr. Purvisha Patel, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare.
Dr. Angela J. Lamb, director of the Westside Mount Sinai Dermatology Faculty Practice in New York City
Why trust ELLE Beauty?
Sydney Wingfield is a freelance writer with expertise in the beauty, lifestyle, and wellness space.
Nerisha Penrose is the Beauty Commerce Editor at ELLE.com. Since joining ELLE.com in 2017, she has interviewed countless skincare professionals and has personally tested the latest and greatest products across makeup, skincare, and hair care.
Beauty Commerce Editor
Nerisha is the beauty commerce editor at ELLE.com, covering all things beauty (and fashion and music). She has a penchant for sneakers and nude lip glosses, and spends way too much time re-watching 90s sitcoms.